seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Birth of Bill Whelan, Musician & Composer of “Riverdance”

Bill Whelan, composer and musician, is born in Limerick, County Limerick, on May 22, 1950. He is best known for composing a piece for the interval of the 1994 Eurovision Song Contest. The result, Riverdance, is a seven-minute display of traditional Irish dancing that becomes a full-length stage production and spawns a worldwide craze for Irish dancing and Celtic music. It also wins him a Grammy. Riverdance is released as a single in the UK in 1994, credited to “Bill Whelan and Anúna featuring the RTÉ Concert Orchestra.” It reaches number 9 and stays on the charts for 16 weeks. The album of the same title reaches number 31 in the album charts in 1995.

Whelan also composes a symphonic suite version of Riverdance, with its premiere performed by the Ulster Orchestra on BBC Radio 3 in August 2014.

Whelan is educated at Crescent College, University College Dublin and the King’s Inns. While he is best known for his Riverdance composition, he has been involved in many ground-breaking projects in Ireland since the 1970s. As a producer he works with U2 on their War album, Van Morrison, Kate Bush, The Dubliners, Planxty, Andy Irvine & Davy Spillane, Patrick Street, Stockton’s Wing and fellow Limerickman Richard Harris.

As an arranger and composer, Whelan’s credits include:

  • The Spirit of Mayo, performed by an 85-piece orchestra in Dublin‘s National Concert Hall and featuring a powerful Celtic drum corps and a 200 strong choir and choral group Anúna.

In theatre, Whelan receives a Laurence Olivier Awards nomination for his adaption of Gilbert and Sullivan‘s H.M.S. Pinafore. He writes original music for fifteen of W. B. Yeats‘s plays for Dublin’s Abbey Theatre and his film credits include Dancing at Lughnasa (starring Meryl Streep), Some Mother’s Son, Lamb (starring Liam Neeson) and the award-winning At The Cinema Palace.


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Bono Named Europe’s Greatest Hero of 2003 by “Time” Magazine

On April 19, 2003, Bono, the lead singer of the Irish rock band U2, surpasses competition from British Prime Minister Tony Blair and French President Jacques Chirac to become Europe’s greatest hero. Already laden down with similar honours, he is picked by online voters from a list of 36 other Europeans compiled by the prestigious Time magazine.

Bono’s work for the starving starts with Band Aid in 1984 but develops over the years into a crusade lobbying world leaders and trying to reduce Third World debt.

Able to open any door from the Vatican to the White House, Bono in 2003 alone is nominated for a second successive Nobel Peace Prize, receives the French Legion of Honour and an international humanitarian award from the American Ireland Fund.

“There are potentially another ten Afghanistans in Africa and it is cheaper by a factor of 100 to prevent the fires from happening than to put them out. Look, I know how absurd it is to have a rock star talk about debt relief or HIV/AIDS in Africa. But if not me, who?” Bono says.

Caoimhe Butterly, a 24-year-old from Dublin, is also nominated by Time editors for her role as a peace activist, which resulted in her being shot at by Israeli troops. “I don’t really think the concept of heroes is helpful, but if my inclusion helps highlight the cause of people struggling against oppression, then it’s of some good,” Butterly says. She expects to go to Iraq in the near future “to further the struggle against oppression.”

The third Irish person on the list is 58-year-old Christina Noble whose torrid childhood leads her to work on behalf of impoverished street children in Asia. She survives tuberculosis, hunger, homelessness, beatings, molestation by relatives, institutionalisation and a gang rape. She starts her foundation‘s work in Vietnam in 1989 and Mongolia in 1997.

In Vietnam, where she is known fondly as Mama Tina, her foundation has 50 projects providing education, food and clean water for children. “We’re tools. We help a little. You don’t need brains or brawn to do that. You just need the heart of a survivor,” Noble says.

Others nominated include footballers David Beckham and Zinedine Zidane, former The Who singer Roger Daltrey, celebrity chef Jamie Oliver, and Harry Potter author J. K. Rowling.

All 36 nominees are honoured at a ceremony in London on May 21, 2003.

(From: “Debt crusader Bono named greatest European hero” be Sean O’Riordan, Irish Examiner, http://www.irishexaminer.com, April 21, 2003)


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Birth of Author Gerard Beirne

Author Gerard Beirne is born on October 30, 1962 in County Tipperary. He attends Trinity College, Dublin and holds Irish and Canadian citizenship.

Beirne is the writer in residence for the 2008-2009 academical year at the University of New Brunswick, where he previously worked in the English Department. He is a Fiction Editor of The Fiddlehead, Canada’s longest surviving literary magazine. He also curates the on-line magazines The Irish Literary Times and The New Brunswick Literary Times.

Beirne’s novel The Eskimo in the Net is published by Marion Boyars in 2003 and is short-listed for the 2004 Kerry Group Irish Fiction Award. It is selected by the Daily Express as Book of the Year.

Beirne’s collection of poetry, Digging My Own Grave, published by Dedalus Press, is runner-up for the Patrick Kavanagh Poetry Award. His story, “Sightings of Bono”, is adapted for Irish film and features Bono of the Irish rock band U2. His most recent collection of poems, Games of Chance – A Gambler’s Manual, is published by Oberon Press, Fall 2011.

Beirne’s CD of spoken word poetry, If it’s words you’re after, is released in 2006. He is a past winner of two Sunday Tribune/Hennessey Literary Awards including as New Irish Writer of the Year 1996. His collaboration with classical composer Siobhán Cleary, Hum!, is called “a theatrical tour de force” by The Irish Times.

In 2009, Oberon Press published Beirne’s second novel, Turtle.

Beirne’s first short story collection, In a Time of Drought and Hunger, is published in 2015 and is a shortlisted nominee for the 2016 Danuta Gleed Literary Award.


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Ireland Awarded the 2003 Special Olympics World Summer Games

On March 31, 1999, Ireland is selected as the location for the 2003 Special Olympics World Summer Games. It is the first time the event has been staged outside the United States. The organising committee, which is formed in 1999 following the success of the bid, is chaired by entrepreneur Denis O’Brien. The chief executive is Mary Davis.

The Games are hosted in Dublin, with participants staying in 177 towns, cities and villages and the Aran Islands in the lead up to the Games before moving to Dublin for the events. Events are held from June 21-29, 2003 at many venues including Morton Stadium, the Royal Dublin Society, the National Basketball Arena, all in Dublin. Croke Park serves as the central stadium for the opening and closing ceremonies, even though no competitions take place there. Belfast is the venue for roller skating events at the King’s Hall, as well as the Special Olympics Scientific Symposium held on June 19-20.

Approximately 7,000 athletes from 150 countries compete in the Games in 18 official disciplines and three exhibition sports. The participants from Kosovo are the region’s first team at an international sporting event. A 12-member team from Iraq receives special permission to attend the games, despite ongoing war in their home nation. This is the largest sporting event held in 2003.

The opening ceremony is held in Croke Park and features an array of stars and is hosted by Patrick Kielty. The ceremony is officially opened by President of Ireland Mary McAleese and attended by Taoiseach Bertie Ahern. Performances include U2, The Corrs and the largest Riverdance troupe ever assembled on one stage. There are 75,000 athletes and spectators in attendance at the opening ceremonies. Irish and international celebrities such as Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jon Bon Jovi walk with the athletes, with Muhammad Ali as a special guest and Manchester United and Republic of Ireland football player Roy Keane taking the athletes oath with one of the Special Olympians. Nelson Mandela officially opens the Games.

The Games Flame is lit at the culmination of the Law Enforcement Torch Run, in which more than 2,000 members of the Garda Síochána and the Police Service of Northern Ireland participate. This is a series of relays carrying the Special Olympics Torch, the “Flame of Hope,” from Europe to the Games’ official opening.

The 2003 Games are the first to have their opening and closing schemes broadcast on live television, and Raidió Teilifís Éireann provides extensive coverage of the events through their ‘Voice of the Games’ radio station which replaces RTÉ Radio 1 on medium wave for the duration of the event. There is also a nightly television highlight programme. A daily newspaper, the Games Gazette, was published for each day of the Games.

Among the activities carried out during the Games are thorough medical checks on the athletes, some of whom have previously undiagnosed conditions uncovered, as some of the athletes come from countries with limited medical facilities or have difficulty communicating their symptoms.

Among the contributors to the Games is the Irish Prison Service. Prisoners from Mountjoy Prison, Midlands Prison, Wheatfield Prison and Arbour Hill Prison construct podiums and make flags, towels, signs, benches and other equipment.


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Thin Lizzy Reaches No. 1 with “Whiskey In The Jar”

Irish rock band Thin Lizzy reaches No. 1 on the Irish Singles Chart with its rendition of “Whiskey In The Jar” on December 19, 1972.

“Whiskey in the Jar” is the tale of a highwayman or footpad who, after robbing a military or government official, is betrayed by a woman; whether she is his wife or sweetheart is not made clear. Various versions of the song take place in County Kerry, Kilmoganny, Cork, Sligo and other locales throughout Ireland. It is also sometimes placed in the American South, in various places among the Ozarks or Appalachians, possibly due to Irish settlement in these places. Names in the song change, and the official can be a Captain or a Colonel, called Farrell or Pepper among other names. The protagonist’s wife or lover is sometimes called Molly, Jenny, Emzy, or Ginny among various other names. The details of the betrayal are also different, being either betraying him to the person he robbed and replacing his ammunition with sand or water, or not, resulting in his killing the person.

The song first gains wide exposure when Irish folk band The Dubliners perform it internationally as a signature song, and record it on three albums in the 1960s. In the United States, the song is popularized by The Highwaymen, who record it on their 1962 album Encore. The song has also been recorded by singers and folk groups such as Roger Whittaker, The Irish Rovers, Seven Nations, Off Kilter, King Creosote, Brobdingnagian Bards, Charlie Zahm, and Christy Moore.

Thin Lizzy’s 1972 single (bonus track on Vagabonds of the Western World [1991 edition]) stays at the top of the Irish charts for 17 weeks, and the British release stays in the top 30 for 12 weeks, peaking at No. 6, in 1973. This version has since been covered by U2, Pulp (first released on a 1996 various artist compilation album Childline and later on deluxe edition of Different Class in 2006), Smokie, Metallica (Garage Inc. in 1998, which wins a Grammy Award), Belle and Sebastian (The Blues Are Still Blue EP in 2006), Gary Moore (2006), Nicky Moore (Top Musicians Play Thin Lizzy in 2008), Simple Minds (Searching for the Lost Boys in 2009), Blaggards (Live in Texas in 2010) and Israeli musician Izhar Ashdot. The song is also on the Grateful Dead live compilation So Many Roads (1965-1995) disc five.


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Start of the 3rd Leg of U2’s Joshua Tree Tour

the-joshua-tree-tourThe third leg of The Joshua Tree Tour, a concert tour by the Irish rock band U2, opens in Uniondale, New York‘s Nassau Coliseum on September 10, 1987. The tour is in support of their album The Joshua Tree, the band’s fifth studio album, which is released on March 9, 1987. The tour is depicted by the video and live album Live from Paris and in the film and partial live album Rattle and Hum.

The first leg of the tour takes place in American indoor arenas during April and May, beginning on April 2 at Arizona State University‘s Activity Center in Tempe, Arizona. The first leg finishes with five concerts at the Brendan Byrne Arena in East Rutherford, New Jersey on May 11-16.

The second leg plays in European arenas and outdoor stadiums from late May through early August, starting at the Stadio Flaminio in Rome on May 27. The final show of the European leg is at Páirc Uí Chaoimh in Cork, County Cork on August 8.

The third leg returns to North American arenas and stadiums beginning in New York’s Nassau Coliseum on September 10. The tour ends on December 20 back where it started in Tempe, Arizona, but this time at Sun Devil Stadium.

The Joshua Tree Tour sells out stadiums around the world, the first time the band had consistently played venues of that size. The Joshua Tree and its singles become huge hits and the band reaches a new height in their popularity. Tickets for shows are often very hard to get, especially on the first American leg when they only play in arenas.

The 79 North American shows on the tour sell 2,035,539 tickets and gross US$35 million. In total, the tour grosses US$40 million and draws 3 million attendees.


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Birth of Frank McCourt, Teacher & Writer

frank-mccourtFrancis “Frank” McCourt, Irish American teacher and writer, is born in New York City‘s Brooklyn borough on August 19, 1930.

McCourt is born to Malachy McCourt, Sr., who falsely claims to have been in the Irish Republican Army (IRA) during the Irish War of Independence, and Irish Catholic mother Angela Sheehan from Limerick. In the midst of the Great Depression, the family moves back to Ireland. Unable to find steady work in Belfast or Dublin and beset by his father’s alcoholism, the family returns to their mother’s native Limerick, where they sink even deeper into poverty.

In October 1949, at the age of 19, McCourt leaves Ireland, taking a boat from Cork to New York City. In 1951, he is drafted during the Korean War and sent to Bavaria for two years initially training dogs, then as a clerk. Upon his discharge from the US Army, he returned to New York City, where he held a series of jobs on docks, in warehouses, and in banks. Using his G.I. Bill education benefits, he talks his way into New York University by claiming he is intelligent and reads a great deal. He is admitted on one year’s probation provided he maintains a B average. He graduates in 1957 from NYU with a bachelor’s degree in English.

A New York city schoolteacher for more than thirty years, McCourt achieves literary fame later in life with his best-selling childhood memoir of the misery and squalor of his childhood, Angela’s Ashes. With a first printing of just 25,000 copies, the book becomes an instant favourite with critics and readers and is perhaps the ultimate case of the non-celebrity memoir, the extraordinary life of an ordinary man.

McCourt wins the annual Pulitzer Prize for Biography or Autobiography in 1997 and one of the annual National Book Critics Circle Awards for the book, which is eventually published in 25 languages and 30 countries. It is a bestseller and makes him a millionaire. Three years later, a movie version of Angela’s Ashes opens to mixed reviews with Northern Irish actor Michael Legge playing McCourt as a teenager.

McCourt is also the author of ‘Tis (1999), which continues the narrative of his life, picking up from the end of Angela’s Ashes and focusing on his life after returning to New York. He subsequently writes Teacher Man (2005) which details his teaching experiences and the challenges of being a teacher.

McCourt writes the book for a 1997 musical entitled The Irish…and How They Got That Way, which features an eclectic mix of Irish music – everything from the traditional Danny Boy to U2‘s I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.

It is announced in May 2009 that McCourt has been treated for melanoma and that he is in remission, undergoing home chemotherapy. On July 19, 2009, he dies from the cancer, with meningeal complications, at a hospice in Manhattan, New York City.


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Death of Poet & Journalist John Boyle O’Reilly

john-boyle-o-reillyJohn Boyle O’Reilly, Irish American poet, journalist, author and activist, dies on August 10, 1890 in Hull, Massachusetts, due to accidental poisoning. His literature and work with civil rights have been celebrated throughout the years.

O’Reilly is born on June 28, 1844 at Dowth Castle to William David O’Reilly (1808–1871) and Eliza O’Reilly (née Boyle) (1815–1868) near Drogheda. His father is a headmaster. He is the third of six children. A year after his birth, the Great Famine begins, an event that shapes his life and beliefs. Most of his closest family manage to survive the famine, however many of his classmates lose their lives to the famine.

O’Reilly moves to his aunt’s residence in England as a teenager and becomes involved in journalism and shortly after becomes involved in the military. He leaves the military, however, in 1863 after becoming angry with the military’s treatment of the Irish, and returns to Ireland the same year.

In 1864 O’Reilly joins the Irish Republican Brotherhood under an assumed name and is part of the group for two years until he and many others are arrested by authorities in early 1866. After a trial that same year he is sentenced to death but the sentence is later commuted to 20 years’ penal servitude. In 1867 he is transported to Western Australia and moves to the town of Bunbury where he escapes two years later. He is assisted in escaping by a Fr. Patrick McCabe from Arnaghan, Gowna, County Cavan.

Following his escape O’Reilly moves to Boston, Massachusetts and embarks on a successful writing and journalism career that produces works such as Moondyne (1879) and Songs from the Southern Seas (1873), and poems such as The Cry of the Dreamer and The White Rose and In Bohemia (1886). He becomes a prominent spokesperson for the Irish community and culture through his editorship of the Boston newspaper The Pilot, his prolific writing and his lecture tours.

O’Reilly marries Mary Murphy (1850-1897), a journalist who writes for the Young Crusader under the name of Agnes Smiley, on August 15, 1872 and has four daughters. In the final four years of his life he suffers various health issues.

On August 9, 1890, O’Reilly takes an early boat to his residence in Hull, Massachusetts. He has been suffering from bouts of insomnia during this time. That evening he takes a long walk with his brother-in-law, John R. Murphy, hoping that physical fatigue will induce the needed sleep. Later on that night he takes some of his wife’s sleeping medicine, which contains chloral hydrate.

In the early morning hours of August 10 his wife wakes up to find O’Reilly unconscious, sitting in a chair with one hand resting on the table near a book and a cigar in the other. She sends a servant for the family’s physician, Dr. Litchfield, and he spends nearly an hour trying to revive him, but O’Reilly dies shortly before 5:00 AM. Public announcements attribute O’Reilly’s death to heart failure but the official death register claims “accidental poisoning.” His memorial service held at Tremont Temple in Boston is a major public event.

The song “Van Diemen’s Land” on U2‘s Rattle and Hum (1988) album refers to and is dedicated to O’Reilly.


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Birth of Radiohead Guitarist Ed O’Brien

ed-obrien-radioheadEdward John O’Brien, English guitarist, member of the alternative rock band Radiohead and grandson of a Tipperary emigrant, is born in Oxford, Oxfordshire, England on April 15, 1968. In 2010, Rolling Stone names him the 59th greatest guitarist of all time. Along with the other members of Radiohead, he is inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2019.

O’Brien grows up listening to post-punk acts such as Siouxsie and the Banshees, Adam and the Ants, Depeche Mode, The Police and David Bowie. His earliest guitar influence is Andy Summers of The Police, particularly his use of delay and chorus effects on “Walking on the Moon.” His other influences include Peter Buck of R.E.M., Paul Weller of The Jam, Johnny Marr of The Smiths, John McGeoch of Magazine and Siouxsie and the Banshees, and The Edge of U2. He attends Abingdon School, an independent school for boys, in Oxfordshire, England, where he meets the other members of Radiohead. In 1985, they formed On a Friday, the name referring to the band’s usual rehearsal day in the school’s music room. O’Brien also studies economics at the University of Manchester.

In 1991, On a Friday signs a six-album record contract with EMI and changes their name to Radiohead. They find early success with their 1992 single “Creep“. Their third album, OK Computer (1997), propels them to international fame and is often acclaimed as one of the best albums of all time. O’Brien becomes depressed during the extensive OK Computer tour. After the tour, he returns to Oxford and falls further into depression.

Radiohead’s next albums, Kid A (2000) and Amnesiac (2001), are recorded simultaneously and mark a dramatic change in sound, incorporating influences from electronic music, classical music, jazz and krautrock. O’Brien keeps an online diary of Radiohead’s progress during the recording and initially struggles with the band’s change in direction. At the suggestion of Michael Brook, creator of the Infinite Guitar, he begins using sustain units, which allow guitar notes to be sustained infinitely. He combines these with looping and delay effects to create synthesiser-like sounds. By 2011, Radiohead has sold more than 30 million albums worldwide.

O’Brien releases solo music under the name EOB. His first solo track, the ambient composition “Santa Teresa,” is released on October 4, 2019. His first solo album, Earth, is announced in December 2019 and is due for release in April 2020 on Capitol Records. Recording for Earth begins in late 2017 and ends in early 2019. It is produced by Flood, Catherine Marks, and Adam “Cecil” Bartlett and is mixed by Alan Moulder, with contributions from drummer Omar Hakim, The Invisible members Nathan East and Dave Okumu, folk singer Laura Marling, Portishead guitarist Adrian Utley, Wilco drummer Glenn Kotche and Radiohead bassist Colin Greenwood. He begins a North American tour in February 2020.

O’Brien lives in London with his wife, Susan Kobrin, who worked for Amnesty International. The couple have a son, Salvador, born in January 2004, and a daughter, Oona, born in 2006. He is a cricket fan and supports Manchester United Football Club. Around 2000, he gives up alcohol and takes up meditation. In 2011, he and his family move to Brazil and live for a year on a farm near Ubatuba. In 2020, he announces that he believes he has contracted COVID-19 but is recovering in isolation.


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Death of Paul Funge, Painter & Arts Enthusiast

paul-fungePaul Funge, internationally respected painter and arts enthusiast, dies at Loughlinstown Hospital in the south Dublin suburb of Loughlinstown on February 21, 2011 after a short illness.

A native of Gorey, County Wexford, Funge is a founder of the Project Arts Centre in Dublin and the founder of Gorey Arts Centre in 1970. He is also a founder of the Belltable Arts Centre in Limerick while the regional arts officer for the midwest. In addition he establishes the Gorey Arts Festival, a three-week summer arts festival, and runs it for more than fifteen years. He is remembered as the man who brought U2 to play at the Gorey Arts Festival in the days before they became an international success.

A painter of portraits and landscapes, Funge teaches art in many schools including Clongowes Wood College and Newbridge College. He also lectures at the National College of Art and Design (NCAD), the University of California, and Kunsthistorisch Instituut in Amsterdam. He is also an inspector for art in the Department of Education for a number of years.

As a portrait artist Funge’s sitters included U2’s Adam Clayton, Frank McGuinness and Colm Tóibín as well as many ministers and academics.

Funge suffers a fall before Christmas 2010, badly fracturing his leg and he is admitted to St. Vincent’s Hospital. On January 6, he transfers from Vincent’s to recuperate at a nursing home in Bray. In early February he takes a turn and develops chest problems. His condition deteriorates and he is admitted to the ICU in Loughlinstown Hospital. Initially he appears to be making a reasonable recovery, but his condition deteriorates again in the days prior to his death.

Following Funge’s death, Eamon Carter, director of Gorey School of Art, pays tribute to him as a visionary who felt passionate about decentralising the arts to areas outside of Dublin.

Carter adds that it had just been announced that the Gorey School of Art is linking up with NCAD to provide a masters in fine arts and it is sad that in the week it receives such good news it also receives the sad news of Funge’s death. “I’m saddened that he wasn’t here to see that because he would have been chuffed obviously,” he said.